Batteries, meters, cutting back: How Australians plan to beat solar tariff bill shock
22nd Oct 2016
Households signed up to the NSW Solar Bonus Scheme stand to pay an average $1,600 extra for their electricity when the program winds up at the end of 2016.
The scheme was introduced to encourage households to install solar panels, by providing them with a generous tariff when the energy they produced was fed back into the grid.
Some of the generous solar energy rebate schemes in South Australia and Victoria also end later this year, and consumers are advised to check which scheme they belong to.
In NSW, 146,000 households will be affected.
So how are consumers planning to cope when the generous tariff of 60 cents per kilowatt hour ends on December 31? We spoke to a few to find out.
Meet the Australians trying to avoid bill shock
- The Craig family are looking at cutting their energy consumption
- Gary Speechley’s gone all out with a Tesla Powerwall and two solar systems
- The Egans will try to run their energy intensive electronics when the sun’s out
- Agner Sorensen will take up net metering
- Catherine Hobbs says she will be changing her lifestyle
- Get some tips from the Solar Citizens Agency
The Craig Family
Trudie Craig lives with her family of six in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria. They had a 3kW solar system installed in 2010 and describe themselves as “low-energy consumers”.
Ms Craig said she was nervous about receiving her first bill after the feed-in tariff.
“We haven’t had power bills, we’ve been getting credits for our consumption,” she said.
Despite the nerves, the Craigs see the positive side in losing the solar credits.
“We are already energy conscious but we are going to focus a lot more on how we use our energy and the appliances we have,” he said.
“We’re looking at getting a more effective heater so we’re not churning through the energy so much.”
The Craigs said getting the kids to switch off lights around the home would be a key challenge.
Gary Speechley, retired scientist
Gary Speechley lives with his wife Vanessa Knight in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria.
They have two solar systems installed in their home, as well as a 6.4kWh Tesla battery.
“My solar system comprises two distinct solar arrays, an original array of seven 220 watt panels with a 1,600-watt inverter installed in 2010, that benefits from the solar rebate of 60 cents per kilowatt hour.”
Mr Speechley’s second solar system was installed separately and has 11, 250 watt panels.
“We have a new meter, so we have the original gross meter that we use and we have another meter that allows us to not only be charged for the electricity we use, but now records the amount of energy we export to the grid,” he said.
“So we will connect the inverter output from the gross feed-in meter, and we will simply re-route those cables directly to the back of our switchboard, so any solar that we’re generating, we’ll now see that electricity go into the house and provide us with some baseload energy.”
Mr Speechley said while the Tesla battery may not be for everyone, he is fascinated by the technology’s potential.
“I guess it is a bit of an indulgence but I also see this is the future for energy management, where control goes back to individual households and the energy grid becomes much more efficient because there is less energy lost through transmission lines and burning coal and sending the energy hundreds of kilometres.”
Renate Egan’s family of four includes two teenage children. They live in Annandale and have a 1kW solar system.
“We bought our panels very early in 2006, even before the feed in tariff scheme came in place, at the time it was really expensive and we only put one kilowatt on,” she said.
“Over summer our power bill is typically around $20-a=quarter, and our winter power bills for electricity only get up to around $200.
“I know that our summer bills will escalate again because that’s where we get all the benefit of our feed in tariffs, we will need to switch to a net tariff.
“We are on a time of use meter so we will shift to use most of our electricity during the day rather than what we do at the moment which is to use it out of peak hour.
“Right now we consciously don’t run things like our discretionary dishwasher or washing machine type cycles during the peak times, but we will now make the decision to run them when the sun’s up, where that’s possible.”
Agner Sorensen is retired electrician and fitter who lives with his wife in Teralba, New South Wales.
In 2010, they installed a 3.25kW solar system with a gross meter under the NSW scheme with 60 cent feed in rate.
In 2013, they installed the first of two more systems with net meters. All up, they have 8.13kW of solar.
“We would have got back the money we paid for the [first] system,” Mr Sorensen said.
“We expect to lose some $2,300 with the 60 cent scheme coming to an end and taking up net metering.
“Now we have to be more careful how we spend our money.
“I am hoping the 3.25 kilowatt solar system changing over to net metering will keep our electricity costs low.
“The plan was to be able to keep heating the house in winter and have this affordable as we age.
“We also run the clothes drier a lot, and part of the plan was so we could keep doing that.
“I think many others are worse off than us on the pension and not much savings, so if they can get by, I would like to think we can.”
Catherine Hobbs lives on the NSW/Victorian border with a 2.9kW solar system.
“There are two of us, we’re retired,” she said.
“We haven’t paid a bill since we got the panels and we are in credit at the moment.
“On the basis of the last 12 months usage and the new July pricing, I believe our electricity bills will go up $3,256.
“[We’ll be] changing our lifestyle, we will have to cut back to cover the bills.
“When we are on our own we will have to put more clothes on and use blankets rather than use the heater, and not turn on the cooling in the summer.”
Advice from Solar Citizens & Community Power Agency
- Households can and should start running their appliances during the day to make the most of the solar electricity generated on their roof. This means transitioning away from off-peak hot water.
- Households with solar could be between $1,000 and $2,000 better off if they start to transition appliances and heating away from gas.
- Batteries are still too expensive for many households as they have a greater than 10-year payback.
- Down the line, as energy markets change and costs drop, consider a battery or west-facing solar. Installing a small battery currently is not cost-effective for most households, but as prices drop it may soon make sense